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The Neon Demon (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Keanu Reeves

Written By: Nicolas Winding Refn (also story), Mary Laws, Polly Stenham

Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn

The Shot

The Neon Demon is beautifully filmed and awfully trashy.  There’s a bad pun of a moral to the play – it meanders too much to call it a coherent story – but it’s way too self-absorbed to stand, and one of the worst films of the year.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Because real cheese would be fattening.  It would also have substance. But look at the composition...

Pairs Well With...


Expensive. Pretentious. A bit bloody.

I can make money from pretty.”

As a lifelong insomniac with access to cable and other agencies, I’ve had lots of opportunities to experience what I affectionately think of as Eurotrash: European (mostly French) films from the late 70s and 80s built around fashion conscious characters whose lives are lit mostly by neon and whose sordidly sex-laden tales invariably look to have been inspired by odd combinations of cocaine, bloodletting, and KY jelly.  The stuff is usually more than just a little “out there,” but oddly magnetic specifically because of how cheesy it is.  I freely admit that this was the preconception I carried with me when walking in to see The Neon Demon.

It turns out that I was kind of right… just not in all of the ways that I was expecting.

I’ll start with the good news: The Neon Demon is beautifully filmed.  If you want to see some top notch cinematography that doesn’t get to use breathtaking vistas as a regular crutch – aside from a quick peek at the Los Angeles skyline, nearly all of the shots are either interior or otherwise confined – then here you go.  Avant garde fashion shoots, challengingly tiny motel rooms, menacingly empty swimming pools, double occupancy showers; this flick makes them all look fantastic.  So yes: camera, lighting; both great.  Really great.

Beyond that…  I seriously doubt that I will end up subjecting myself to a worse theatrical release film for the rest of this year.  (Even if I end up giving in to see a Kevin Hart flick.  Yeah; that bad.) 

The best examples of classic Eurotrash end up being fun specifically because of how cheesily trashy they are, presented with avant garde airs even though deep inside, you know the people making it understand the joke.  (Or at least they will when they come down from the cocaine rush.)  The trash comes out the other side and turns into amusement.  In the case of The Neon Demon, however, the trash wanders around aimlessly through a hall of mirrors, pausing occasionally to stare at itself and never, ever coming out the other side.  The first 90 minutes of the movie play like a long, slow hangover, and are barely coherent in terms of narrative; the only thing that’s clear is the fact that the the director’s stylistic signature is all that matters.  One could argue a deliberate swing toward style over substance to make a point, but I call BS.  I want to think that Nicolas Winding Refn gets the laborious joke that The Neon Demon ends up being, but I’m just not convinced that he does; at least not enough.  There’s just no justification for taking an hour and a half to boringly meander around the concepts that the fashion industry is pathologically youth obsessed and the fashionistas running it bitchy and vapid.  And oh yes – “NWR” monograms the damn thing, which is itself more absurdly pretentious than anything that happens during the movie.  So no, I’m not giving him a pass.

And then… then he dares to reach for the mantle of Lynch, and fails dreadfully.  Mild but significant spoilers ahead, folks, so if you really don’t want to know the details that everyone else has already blabbed about anyway, just consider what I said up in “The Shot” to be your takeaway.

I’ve seen people walk out of movies in disgust before, but never as late as the ninety minute mark.  It happened while I was watching The Neon Demon.  The comments I overhead as the departing gents walked past indicated that they’d had enough of the boring pretentiousness, and didn’t appreciate Refn and company finally breaking the monotony with the rape of a thirteen year old girl.  Yeah; you read that right.  (I have to say I was and am disgusted myself.  I don’t care if it was technically audio only and off camera; it doesn’t belong there – not even in a trashy movie like this, and especially not as nothing more than a throwaway plot device to get our “heroine” to leave the cheap motel she’s been holed up in.  Using rape as a cheap plot device is appalling.)  Too bad for them; had they stayed an extra few minutes, they could have enjoyed the lingering on-camera necrophilia scene.  (By the way, I call that a rape, too, because corpses can’t consent.)

Yes, it’s well filmed.  Can’t say I care at this point.

Only after the extensive corpse hump does The Neon Demon actually come around to its point, which is that Hollywood will chew you up while you’re young and beautiful and spit you out once you’ve been bled dry, after which another vulture will swoop down for seconds of your entrails.  No, none of that’s a metaphor.  Yes, I’m pretty sure that there’s a chain-vaping French woman who could have made pure dynamite out of this idea.  But Nicolas Winding Refn is not a chain-vaping French woman, and instead of dynamite, he’s just made himself a mirror.  An ugly, boring, pretentious mirror reflecting shallow images and carrying the terrible echoes of someone we’re definitively told is a thirteen year old runaway.

I wanted to enjoy The Neon Demon.  I really did.  I dig the art house.  I dig trashy avant garde.  But this… this is just pretentious bullshit.  If a worse movie manages to hit theatres this year, call Stephen Hawking, because someone will have managed to violate a few laws of physics.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2016

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